Interview: Kandyse McClure talks Ghost Wars and diversity in sci-fi


Kandyse McClure

Photo Credit: Torquille DeJonge, Acquired from Platform PR

Kandyse McClure stars in Ghost Wars, which premieres on Syfy this October. Check out what she had to say about the new series and why the sci-fi genre is one of the most diverse.

Kandyse McClure is no stranger to the sci-fi genre. She’s starred in series like Hemlock Grove and Battlestar Galactica, and you may have even recognized her from a few episodes of Sanctuary or a guest appearance on Supernatural.

And there’s a reason for that: representation.

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Up next for Kandyse: Ghost Wars, a horror series set to premiere on Syfy on October 5. According to the network, Ghost Wars will be:

"Set in a remote Alaskan town that has been overrun by paranormal forces, the series focuses on local outcast Roman Mercer who must overcome the town’s prejudices and his own personal demons if he’s to harness his repressed psychic powers and save everyone from the mass haunting that’s threatening to destroy them all."

Having just wrapped the first season of Ghost Wars, Kandyse McClure took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about the series and the benefits of working in the sci-fi genre at large.

Hidden Remote: So, are you finishing up Ghost Wars season 1? Onto something else?

Kandyse McClure: We just wrapped the season yesterday. It’s kind of bittersweet. We can’t believe that four months have gone by so quickly, and it’s a really good group. We really enjoy being around each other, so hopefully, it’ll be Season 2 sooner than later.

Hidden Remote: So, no word on that yet?

Kandyse McClure: We’re hoping to know by November or December if we get a quick turnaround. But we feel really confident about it.

Hidden Remote: Yeah, I saw the trailer at Comic-Con. It was pretty awesome, actually. I remember looking up when they showed the Ghost Wars trailer and thinking, “Whoa! What is this?”

Kandyse McClure: We kind of thought the same thing, actually. Because at that point, I think we had shot up until maybe five or six episodes. But a lot of those episodes were in the can and hadn’t yet been edited. A lot of us hadn’t seen more than dailies. They were still working on the pilot’s — the first episode’s — final cut, so I think we were all kind of holding our breath because we didn’t know how it was going to come together: the tone of it and what direction it was going to take.

Recently, at the wrap party, I saw another sizzle reel, let’s call it. Another action reel. And now they have so much more material. They have a whole season’s worth of shots. We were all kind of blown away. We were like, “if this show is anything like this trailer, we are onto a good thing!”

Hidden Remote: There’s a lot of really gruesome stuff in the Ghost Wars trailer that we saw at Comic-Con. So, I’m thinking: not a good show to have dinner with. But is there any snack food — or any drink at all — that’s going to be safe if people are used to sitting in front of the TV and munching? Or should we just set our snacks aside for an hour?

Kandyse McClure: I don’t think anything sloppy. Yeah, no Sloppy Joes. [laughs]. No sausages, nothing with tomato gravy.

Hidden Remote: No red wine, either, right? With all of that blood?

Kandyse McClure: …or anything gooey. Popcorn should be safe!

Hidden Remote: Stick to the popcorn. Got it. If people are not used to watching the horror genre stuff, what would you say to bring people around to watching Ghost Wars, even if they’re not necessarily inclined to watch this type of show?

Kandyse McClure: You know, what developed over the course of shooting was the emergence of this place between horror and comedy, which is such a difficult line to walk. There are some interestingly comedic elements in this show that I think allow us a moment of lightness through all the suspense, pressure-building, and thrill of a lot of the things.

There are these really human moments between family members, between lovers, between friends, and then these…I mean, there were laugh-out-loud moments for us. So, I really hope that translates on camera.

There are these moments of pressure relief from all the intensity of the horror. And these great comedic moments. And kind of loving and family moments. I know it’s a weird intersection, but it’s Dennis Heaton and Simon Barry’s forte — our showrunner and our head writer.

Hidden Remote: Speaking of writers, I was looking at some of the series credits, and it looks like you’ve got a really nice, even mix between your male showrunners and some female writers. I think even saw a couple of female directors on there? Is that correct?

Kandyse McClure: Yes. Yes. We had an amazing team.

In the writing room, we had Sonja Bennett and Rachel Langer. And they are phenomenal. They’re both so talented and definitely two women on the rise to watch.

Sonja Bennett actually plays one of the characters in this show, Karla. So, there were days when she was in her full costume on set with a laptop, trying to finish scenes in between being on scenes — which is her story to tell. But. My hat’s off to her, absolutely.

And then, on the directing side: incredible.

On my first episode, I was directed by Leslie Hope. I have so much love for that woman, I don’t even know what to say. She ran that set, she was looking at everything, she had added personal moments and really thoughtful and beautiful direction — knew exactly what she wanted to see. Just an amazing experience with Leslie Hope; and she’s an actress herself — and not a small actress. She’s an accomplished, critically acclaimed, phenomenal actress of depth and range; and here she was directing me. I’m just so grateful to her.

And another actress on our show, Kristin Lehman, who plays the character of Marilyn, was also one of our directors. And one of my favorites. I mean, she has such an understanding of everybody’s needs, in front and behind the camera. It was kind of a lovefest. We had a really great time with her.

But it was funny, you know: She’s acting in the scenes, and she’s directing the scenes. She was yelling “action” and “cut” from inside the work. My hat’s off…I don’t know how they did that.

Hidden Remote: Do you think having that mix brought something different to the characters than if it had been solely just your typical writers’ room or your typical directing staff: You know, mostly male, non-actors…

Kandyse McClure: Yeah. Absolutely. Without a doubt. Yes.

I mean, how often do we find men writing a female voice?

And with regards to the nuances of relationships, the nuances of how…the inside…I don’t know how to describe it…how a woman really thinks and feels about things, that mixture of emotions…that kind of global thinking — that kind of system thinking.

That and, you know, it became such a collaborative environment. Everybody was on set all the time. The writers were always available to us. The directors and the EPs were always available to us.

The communication on set was really great. Notes went back and forth, and they were always really regarded and taken into account. Time was made for all those things because ultimately, it’s about making the show the best it can be. You know? And all of those voices get to be heard.

And I think that’s such a feminine quality, right?

Hidden Remote: Yeah, I’d say so. So, looking at your Ghost Wars character, Landis Barker: She’s a scientist. That is still a field, in 2017, where we’re not particularly equally represented. Does any of that inform the way you approach the character? Is there anything people in those fields will be able to see and relate to? Or maybe something similar to what happened with The X-Files and “The Scully Effect” that somebody will be watching and will, hopefully, latch on, and say, “I want to do that?”

Kandyse McClure: Absolutely.

Not only is she a female physicist, but she’s a black female physicist! Black female physicists exist in the world! They are there. They do exist. It’s great to be able to bring visibility to that.

And yes, I’ve often advocated for women in STEM. Or marginalized communities in the sciences. I worked with a company out of Oakland that worked to bring coding to low-opportunity and marginalized communities, be those low-income or gender-biased communities.

I have kind of a track record of playing…Although, I guess, in Battlestar Galactica, it was in space…She was a space faring communications and weapons specialist.

So, yeah, the more representations there are, the more I can be on a screen — or any black woman can be on the screen — and have somebody out there go, “oh, yeah! I can see it! I can see how it’s done, and I can be that.”

But ultimately, I’m always going to approach characters from a place of humanity. I just love that.

Sci-fi, I think, more than — and genre television — more than mainstream allows for those opportunities and does more colorblind casting. It’s not a big deal.

I prefer it not to be a big deal. I would prefer it to just be there: “Yeah, ok. She’s a physicist, and she’s a woman. And she’s black. Ok. Moving on.” And not have it be so outrageous.

Because it’s not.

Hidden Remote: It shouldn’t be. Do you have any kind of inkling as to why genre television has been better about diversity? Because I do feel that way. And I know that you’ve spoken about that before. Why do you think putting people in space, or in a ghost town, or wherever…Why does that work better? Why do you think people seem to be more open in those settings?

Kandyse McClure: I think because there’s the idea that it’s in a fictional universe far, far away — that it’s outside of our immediate reality — creates a platform where it’s ok. “Oh, it’s in space, 2000 years from now.” It creates a space where viewers can kind of distance themselves from the idea…It doesn’t mean that they have to make a decision about it, on which side of the line they fall, whether they agree with it or disagree with it.

It doesn’t come across as politicized because it’s not speaking to their current reality and all the connotations, and history, and debates, and opposing points of view. It’s separate from all of that, so people can kind of accept it more, can consider it more. Because, in a way, it doesn’t have a direct impact on how they’re living their lives right now.

They don’t have to change their point of view in the world today. They don’t have to exist differently in the world today. They don’t have to think differently about it because it’s in a fictional ghost town. Or it’s in space. It’s just outside of their reality.

Does that make sense?

Hidden Remote: Yeah, that makes total sense. Does Ghost Wars sneak the messages or lessons in, especially with everything that’s happening in the world right now? Do you think there are going to be viewers that see this and say, “Oh! This does remind me a little bit too much of the real world,” or does the series exist in its own world and completely take a step back from reality?

Kandyse McClure: There’s definitely a kind of escapism. You know, there are universal themes of challenging the nature of spirituality or faith — the little guys against the all-powerful, you know, white power on the hill — and these notions of how do you meet things that you don’t understand? Where do you operate from? From a religious perspective, from a spiritual perspective? From the scientific perspective?

And the ways people hurt each other…And the ways people come together.

Hidden Remote: So, if there was one message about Ghost Wars that you would want people to know, what would it be?

Kandyse McClure: Well, as one of our characters said, “It’s a war, man! It’s a ghost war.” [laughs]

Hidden Remote: That works for me. I was actually going to ask you…Going back to the Ghost Wars name, did any of those guys from the Comic-Con panel ever get back to you with suggestions for different names — since they were all so hype on, “Oh, that’s not the right name for the show!”

Kandyse McClure: And our response was sort of like, “That is the name for the show, so…Suck it up, Buttercup!”

Hidden Remote: [laughs] Pretty much.

Kandyse McClure: I think it kind of speaks for itself, like I said. It’s, at most parts, thrilling. And at other parts, it’s just hilarious. That’s what the show is.

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Hidden Remote: I think that will be fun to watch. So, your character…I remember a discussion about how you went to audition for a different part, but you were so nervous that it fit the bill for Landis. From that experience, or any other audition experience, is there something that you’d say to encourage people to go past that comfort zone? Or even something that maybe didn’t work in this case but that you usually try to bring to take some of those nerves out of the picture?

Kandyse McClure: There are always going to be nerves. For me, if I’m not nervous, I’m not doing it right. It’s really just how you deal with those things. To do the work, you really just have to be prepared to fail — constantly — in front of other people and to make a fool of yourself. That’s sort of the whole game.

So, yeah. My advice? Keep failing spectacularly.

Hidden Remote: Keep failing spectacularly. New motto.  I think we’ll leave it there!

Ghost Wars premieres Thursday, October 5 on Syfy.